Australian cotton growers have been quietly and collaboratively working to improve their sustainability performance for decades. In 1991 cotton became the first Australian agricultural industry to benchmark its environmental performance, and more recently the cotton industry - led by CRDC and Cotton Australia - have been working towards developing sustainability targets.

Environmental assessments:

Sustainability reports and developing targets:

  • 2014: First Sustainability Report provided data on 45 social, economic and environmental indicators.
  • 2016: Sustainability Working Group (SWG) formed to oversee the industry’s ongoing commitment to sustainability reporting and implementation.
  • 2016-2019: Priority sustainability topics developed by the SWG through technical advice, research, stakeholder consultation, and validation. In 2016, 35 internal and external stakeholders attended a Cotton Sustainability Stakeholder Forum to provide guidance and feedback to the Australian cotton industry on sustainability issues, draft targets, indicators and reporting. Other stakeholders were contacted directly. Feedback from this Forum was used to refine targets and release a Background Reference Paper later in 2016 that outlined eight sustainability topics and associated indicators, and provided rationale for their selection. In 2018, feedback was sought on draft sustainability targets from stakeholders representing customers and retailers, suppliers and service providers, interest groups, agriculture RDCs, all levels of government, community groups, employment representatives, cotton industry representatives, the Cotton Innovation Network and the research community.
  • 2019: Second Sustainability Report for the five years to June 2019 provided data on the eight priority social, economic and environmental topics. Data gathered report allowed us to compare our performance in priority topics from 2014 to 2019. This highlighted we are on track in some topics, and in other topics we can do better. 
  • 2020: Sustainability targets in development. Small expert groups reviewed data from 2014 and 2019 Sustainability Reports. This process has resulted in draft targets for several priority topics. It has also shown other priority topics need more time to develop indicators or targets, especially those that have a high degree of crossover with other Australian agriculture sectors. Having consistency with other agriculture sustainability frameworks is very important to the cotton industry. Stakeholder consultation on draft targets was undertaken from mid-2020, as outlined by the Stakeholder Consultation Report Executive Summary - December 2020.
  • 2021: Work continues on the finalisation of the targets and stakeholder engagement, including the formation of the Australian Cotton Sustainability Reference Group. The Sustainability Update 2021 provides a summary of the industry's sustainability progress for the 12 months to 30 June 2021. 
  • 2022: The Sustainability Update 2022 provides a summary of the industry's sustainability progress for the 12 months to 30 June 2022.

Achieving sustainability targets:

A Sustainability Strategy developed by the Sustainability Working Group coordinates industry work to achieve the targets. Engagement with stakeholders on sustainability is ongoing and integrated into how we operate and respond to sustainability issues. 

Our sustainability framework:

PLANET. PEOPLE. PADDOCK. is the Australian cotton industry’s sustainability framework. It recognises sustainability is integral to the industry’s future and provides a path for the entire industry to stay in business. Through a process of stakeholder consultation and review, eight environmental, economic and social sustainability topics have been assessed as being most important to cotton growers and stakeholders inside and outside the industry. 


PLANET. PEOPLE. PADDOCK. guides the industry’s work to: 

  • Set ambitious industry-wide Australian cotton sustainability targets for these areas 
  • Coordinate existing work and new investments to achieve these targets 
  • Engage effectively with stakeholders on actions and progress, and 
  • Provide a united vision for further positive change. 

PLANET. PEOPLE. PADDOCK. is currently targeted at on-farm cotton production. It is not a compulsory standard or a brand: it will be delivered through existing industry structures and programs.

The framework acknowledges that cotton farms are complex systems where most things are interconnected: changing one part in the system impacts other parts of the system, as demonstrated here

The data framework behind PLANET. PEOPLE. PADDOCK. is currently being revamped in an ambitious Australian proof of concept to cotton and other agriculture industries to collect better sustainability data and use it for more purposes. More information on this project is available here.

Our priority sustainability topics:

PLANET: Water PLANET: Pesticides PLANET: Native vegetation
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*For a short video explaining Environmental Toxic Load (ETL), please click here.

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PLANET: Soil health PLANET: Greenhouse gas emissions PEOPLE: Workplace and working conditions
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*To see the Australian cotton soil health framework, please click here

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PEOPLE: Wellbeing PADDOCK: Productivity PADDOCK: Profitability
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Our cotton growers:

Meet some of Australia's cotton growers, who are actively working to improve their sustainability performance. And read about how we're developing a circular farming system.

Graham Volck, Emerald
> Improving nitrogen use efficiency
Scott McCalman, Gunnedah
> Improving soil health via cover cropping
Graham Volck case study


Scott McCalman


Our alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals: 

Sustainable Development Goals

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are widely recognised as providing a global pathway to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we all face. The SDGs provide goals and targets for every individual, business, industry and nation to work towards. The Stakeholder Consultation Report Executive Summary - December 2020 provides a summary of the most relevant SDGs to the Australian cotton industry, and how we are working to do our share to contribute to them. 

Our International Collaborations:

It is important that the industry’s efforts to improve its sustainability are informed by what is happening internationally. Global brands and retailers in particular are increasingly interested to understand in greater detail the specific impacts of their supply chain all the way back to raw material production, including of course cotton growing. To help ensure alignment, CRDC participates in a number of internationally-focused initiatives.

Sustainable Apparel Coalition

CRDC has been a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) since 2014. SAC is the apparel, footwear, and textile industry’s leading alliance for sustainable production. Its vision is for an apparel, footwear, and textile industry that produces no unnecessary environmental harm and has a positive impact on the people and communities associated with its activities. Members include retailers and brands, manufacturers and NGOs. The coalition’s main focus is on building the Higg Index, a standardized supply chain measurement tool to help all industry participants understand the environmental, social and labor impacts of making and selling their products and resolve any damaging practices present in their supply chain.


Together with Cotton Australia, CRDC participates in Forum for the Future’s Cotton2040 initiative. Cotton 2040 is a platform which aims to accelerate progress and maximise the impact of existing sustainable cotton initiatives, bringing together leading international brands and retailers, sustainable cotton standards, and other stakeholders across the value chain. The platform envisages a sustainable global cotton industry which is resilient in a changing climate, uses business models that support sustainable production and livelihoods, and where sustainably produced cotton is the norm.

Project Delta

CRDC participates in Project Delta, an ISEAL Innovations Fund project that aims to create a shared language and approach to measuring and communicating sustainability progress globally, starting with cotton and coffee. Coming together in this way will help to advance transparency, build credibility and benefit multiple stakeholders, from farmers to retailers and brands. A focus is on sharing the industry’s experiences in reporting on sustainability at an industry level.

Expert Panel on the Social Environmental and Economic Performance of Cotton (SEEP)

The SEEP Expert Panel was established by the International Cotton Advisory Committee in 2007 and is chaired by CRDC’s General Manager for R&D Investment, Allan Williams. Its objectives include providing the ICAC with objective, science-based information on the negative and positive social, environmental and economic aspects of global cotton production, and the making of recommendations for further action as appropriate to improve the social, environmental and economic performance of the cotton industry.

Cross-RDC project: Development by the European Union of Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules

Since 2015, the EU has been developing a life cycle assessment (LCA)-based approach for assessing the environmental impact of consumer goods, including textiles. Product Environment Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR) have the broad aim of ensuring that any environmental claims made about a product are based on a common methodology allowing consumers can compare like for like. An Environmental Footprint Technical Advisory Board has been established to provide overarching coordination and is  the body that will determine the overall way in which LCA methodologies are interpreted for use in the PEFCR.

This investment, involving CRDC, Australian Wool Innovation, Meat & Livestock Australia, AgriFutures, Sugar Research Australia and the Grains Research and Development Corporation, supports Australian representation at the Technical Advisory Board to provide input into the EU system and the methods used to ensure they are suitable for assessing Australian agricultural systems generating robust results that are valid and reasonable for Australian products.